There is an unsung hero of the road, one that I haven’t given enough love to, enough credit, enough kudos, enough time to. All and every 26 foot of her is a hero, every dent and ding, every crackled chrome component, every yellowed plastic molded part, all the leaky water lines, and dying-battery acid mess that sometimes filled the cabin with the acrid smell of chemical failure. Every cabin light fitting that blinked out on the road one by one by one yet held onto the scraps of functionality, the four uninsulated walls providing safety and shelter and transportation through 120 degree Auburn heatwaves, and snowy La Pine spring trips over the mountain passes.
The leaky ceiling that let the drips into the corners of life, and sent raindrops falling by my ear when I tried to curl up in a ball and sleep. Somehow I managed to always find a spot in that back cabin, a corner, to wrap myself up in blankets, and drift off to sleep with the thin window behind my head, and the animals padding outside noisily, breaking twigs and breathing heavily. Beastie is a modern covered wagon, a Prairie Mama, a metal and wood rubber-footed mechanical buffalo. The buffalo in North Dakota knew she was a Beast – they sniffed her and rubbed their hairy sides against her bumper.
Every inch of rubber and threadbare seat cover holds memories and love. Her cargo compartments held treasures: just open one up and pull out a fishing pole, a tackle box, various tools and trinkets and old boots. She surefootedly held us on roads through the worst storms I have ever seen. Driving out through Palo, Minnesota, the clouds closed in, the wind kicked up and the rain started coming down in sheets, with thunder and lightning rocking the cabin and blinding us on the road. Somehow she skated along, not quite on thin ice, but at least on a sheet of watery slickness, holding to the road, and getting us to a safe perch to wait out the storm.
When I first met Beastie, Billy sent me a photo of her to my email in Tokyo. I was not expecting much. Her pink and blue livery on her yellowing white 22 year old body was faded, but then so am I. I know what time can do to a girl. Like me, she just needed a shower and a bit of paint to make her shine. The inside looked clean enough, if a little worn, and she didn’t have many miles on her. We started off with 20,000 on the mileometer. When I left we had done 110,000. Some of them happy, some of them not, but she carried us through each and every one of them like a trooper. For such a big girl, she glided round obstacles in her way. She was not the smoothest ride – the shaking and rattling was terrifying to begin with, but settled into a jerky uncomfortable familiarity. Driving her over gravel and dirt tracks sometimes had me worrying that the road surface would shake her cabin right off her chassis as we crawled along. Sometimes I would insist we turned around instead, the shaking got so bad. For a while she was listing to the left continually, for miles upon miles, due to tires that needed to be replaced badly. It was like driving on four balloons. Eventually one just popped on the roadside, thanks to the double tires and the fact we got lucky, in so far that it happened right outside a campground. We drifted down the small road to the campground by the lighthouse slowly, making it into an empty space where we inspected the damage. Even when Beastie was crook, she held on. Beastie was a trooper, a warrior, a fighter.
Billy was not great at parking her up. He managed to dent her sides, push in the bumper, and once, infamously, backed into a farmers fence, lodging a six foot long two by four piece of lumber through her fender by the back blinkers, and drove with the wood sticking out all the way back to the motel we were staying in for a night of showers and television. He pulled up, oblivious to the problem. He could have taken out traffic like some hillbilly knight in armor riding with a lance in some medieval tourney. Once I had stopped laughing, I went and helped him pull the thorn from the great Beastie’s side. I patted her as if she was an animal or a human. She was my baby. It was fanciful, I know, but the Beastie had spirit.
She was the best Beastie that anyone could have asked for to carry them across this big wide country of ours. I have fallen from her doors, almost knocked myself out on her wing mirrors, chosen her camping spaces, and tried to fix her as she faltered here and there.
Now she has evolved. Beastie since I have been gone has fallen off the wagon. She is now a shooting gallery, a drug den, a beast of ill repute. She is the scene of overdoses and fist fights, of people being hit over the head with fry pans, and instead of veggie chilli being cooked up in her confines, she now hides more dangerous cooking activities than my exploits in camp cuisine. As I talk to Billy, him telling me how his drug buddies soaped up her windows to hide them fixing their shit up at the gas station (that is one way to refuel, I guess), how they have her stinking of cats piss meth and that acrylic and burning rubber chemical haze of crack smoke. Now she is littered not with kids pictures, the detritus of family life and the road, instead it is all U100s and cellophane wraps.
She is going to have to be sold, to leave her master for a new home. That first time I walked into her cabin and sat at the table, all the hopes and dreams and love and life and laughter of old friends, children, happiness, escape, freedom, the road stretching ahead and time to spend freely, as if it didn’t matter at all. Time slipped through my hands like water through a sieve. Hearing today that Beastie would be sold or seized, since Billy is going ‘away’ for a while, had the tears falling. Beastie was my home, my kids’ bedroom, the foundation to our existence as a family. Things move on. Now my home has no wheels, instead stained glass and bay windows, and a fire escape I sit on to smoke weed and hope I don’t irritate Mrs. ____, the elderly lady above me. I have been very careful about smoking here, not wanting to be a bad neighbor, but this morning the unmistakable aroma of marijuana came drifting through my kitchen window. I looked up and saw Mrs. ___ blazing away. She waved at me contentedly. Apparently it helps her arthritis too. Looks like I have a new smoke break buddy.
Beastie might have gone on down the line to the tune of Long May You Run, her ‘chrome heart’ giving out in a grind of gears and rust, me in her rear view mirror, nothing but a ghost in the machine, a dent in her passenger seat, a lingering g chord resounding round her tin walls. Everything changes or gets destroyed in the end. Everything is transient. Nothing lasts forever…not even the road. Not even the Beast. I suspect not even love, though my heart that belongs to my Boy breaks at the thought of the cruelty of it all.
If I close my eyes I can see her, patting her hood as I dragged our bags into the little yellow taxi cab that took me away from the campground with the ducks and the lake, and out to the San Francisco city limits.
Bye Beastie. Thanks for the ride!